My notes on Harpoon (2019), which has screened at the Fantasia Film Festival and will screen at FrightFest.
What happens when three lifelong friends – who have secret and open reasons for hating each other – try to settle their latest stupid, violent disagreement by taking an afternoon’s trip out to see in a yacht? Part of the charm of writer-director Rob Grant’s film is that you can guess about a third of its twists, which lets the other two-thirds spring surprises. An unseen narrator (Brett Gilman) frames the whole thing as a shaggy dog story, or possibly a tall tale of the sea. At a crucial juncture in the crisis, the rudderless trio hash over the immortal story of the three men in a lifeboat with two long straws and one short one … which tees the film up nicely to get gory as the survivors contemplate who’s going to make the supreme sacrifice to give the others a chance to live.
When the unlucky voyage is well underway, Gilman checks off all the superstitions of the sea that have been violated, from setting sail on a Friday to getting on a boat with a guy called Jonah. When we meet them, Richard (Christopher Gray) is battering Jonah (Munro Chambers) because he’s come across texts that suggest his girlfriend Sasha (Emily Tyra) is cheating on him with his best friend, but it’s all a misunderstanding over the friends intending to surprise short-fused Richard – who has a murderous gangster father – with a harpoon (‘spear gun!’) as a birthday present. Out on the Atlantic in the good ship Naughty Buoy (which Richard pronounces ‘booey’, ruining the pun), the paranoid host can’t get over suspicion of his long-time sidekick and violence erupts again – and Jonah gets speared through the hand. When Richard rolls overboard, not entirely accidentally, Jonah and Sasha consider letting him drown only he has the ignition keys. Richard only comes back aboard after his friends have tossed everything that might be used as a murder weapon – including a fresh-caught fish – overboard, which turns out to a problem because that means everything that could be used as a survival aide is gone when the engine won’t start and they drift well off the fishing lanes.
There are nods to survival/suffering tales like Adrift, Open Water, Alive and 127 Hours, with gruesome broken bottle surgery, but there’s also a trace of classic two guys/one girl on a boat dramas like Knife in the Water and Dead Calm. The plot hinges on contrivances and revelations, but that’s rather the point of this sort of story and the three performances all manage to be engaging enough within the confines of these characters being pretty horrible.
The Fantasia International Film Festival listing.
Here’s the FrightFest listing.
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